The Bangsamoro’s continuing cause
Cotabato City—Last week the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao celebrated its annual Bangsamoro Week of Peace, a period instituted to commemorate and memorialize the continued aspiration of the Bangsamoro people to come to terms with their political identity as one of the forerunners of contemporary Mindanao. It is also intended to reaffirm their avowed commitment to exist harmoniously with their fellow Mindanaoans—the lumad and the migrant-settlers—for an inclusive and development-friendly region.
With the theme “Bangsamoro: Revisiting the Past, Continuing the Cause,” the commemoration sought to recapture the passion of the turbulent days that unified the Islamized ethnic groups in Mindanao, and gauge how the lessons of the struggle are helping them fulfill their aspiration as an empowered and self-directed people.
This year marks the 49th anniversary of the reawakening of the Bangsamoro identity. On March 18, 1968, the infamous Jabidah Massacre was made known to the public by a Moro recruit who lived to tell the tale.
Per his account, Bangsamoro youths from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were selected and trained in Corregidor under Oplan Merdeka—a brainchild of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos—to infiltrate and reclaim oil-rich Sabah, a territory of the Sulu Sultanate. The recruits’ unforeseen refusal to follow orders and wreak havoc in Sabah led to the termination not only of the mission but also of those who were aware of it.
Moro historians view the Jabidah Massacre as the beginning of the push toward a unified Bangsamoro, which was precipitated by various protest movements in Manila and across Mindanao and which ultimately led to the establishment of the Moro National Liberation Front. The unconquered people of Muslim Mindanao have since been demanding their right to chart their own destiny against the oppressive and extractive policies of the Philippine government based in Luzon.
Half a century and six Philippine presidents later, the Bangsamoro are still far from achieving the autonomy they deserve. The region is still marked by sporadic armed conflict, underdevelopment, and pockets of political exclusion, which have caused the great suffering and marginalization of the grassroots. Despite the inflow of investment and development aid in recent years, 2015 data from the National Anti-Poverty Commission still identified the ARMM as the poorest region, with poverty incidence at 53.4 percent.
The election to the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, a son of Mindanao, was seen by many as one of the possible ways to finally address the grievances of the Bangsamoro. But his recent decision to “take over” the implementation of development funds and projects in the ARMM came as an inadvertent blow to the very idea of Bangsamoro self-rule. As one Moro friend laments, “So what happened to the ‘down with Imperial Manila’ rhetoric?”
While Mr. Duterte’s decision must have arisen from a sincere intention to help ease the plight of the people of the ARMM, it appears insensitive to the idea of autonomy for which many Bangsamoro women and men have died. It echoes the longtime distrust that the national government has displayed regarding the capacity of the Bangsamoro to govern themselves under the Philippine flag.
On the other hand, the President’s championing of the historical injustice narrative is something to be commended. Last month, the independent Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission submitted its last reports to the government and the panel representing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Camp Darapanan. Both sides urged the President to go beyond rhetoric and institutionalize his approach to historical injustice by signing an executive order that will create the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission tasked to implement policies aimed at promoting healing and reconciliation.
The Bangsamoro cause is more complex than it appears, and the President must approach it beyond the reductionism of federalism.
Jesse Angelo L. Altez ([email protected]) is an academic and development worker based in Mindanao.
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